Interview for Carl Salminen about his new family card game, Have a Cow.
Hey Carl, thanks for joining us today to tell us a little bit about your new game, Have a Cow. Could you tell us a little bit about the game and it’s gameplay?
Carl: Hey Ryan, I appreciate the chance to talk about the game. In Have a Cow, the players are farmers. Their cows are out in the pasture having a snack when strange and unusual visitors out of time begin to arrive. So now the farmers need to get their herds back onto their barnyards. The first player to gather 4 cows, wins. The gameplay uses barn cards that allow players to try and build combos and chains in order to get the most out of each turn. You basically want to make hay bales to attract cows and use the hay to bring them into your herd. All the while, you need to manipulate and use the visitors as best you can.
What the story behind the creation of the game?
Carl: The inspiration for the game came from a small herd of cows that lived nearby when I was in New Jersey. I stopped while on a bike ride to chat with them one day and someone drove by yelling “Don’t have a cow!” I thought, hey, maybe I want to have a cow and something clicked. I rode home and started working on the first iteration of Have a Cow.
Wow! So you’ve been working on this for quite some time, because as long as I’ve known you, you’ve lived here in Florida, like myself. How long have you been working on the game?
Carl: I made the original game several years and put it on Kickstarter. It failed to fund but I was very inexperienced and definitely rushed into things. When I first moved to Florida, I kind of got out of board gaming for almost 3 years. I had a job that took all my energy and I was even hit by a car. But mostly, I had a weird experience while developing a game about elephants for someone in the Washington D.C. area. It was moving along and I suddenly got what I can only call “writer’s block” of game development. It was strange. About a year ago, I jumped back in and decided to make Have a Cow that game I always wanted it to be. I think it’s fun, fast-moving and the illustrator I hired did an amazing job of making it look great. I’m feeling good about the games I’m working on again.
Did any games influence Have a Cow?
Carl: No specific game directly influenced Have a Cow but as a game designer, I know that everything I do has been influenced by the games I’ve played. Basically, there was no point where I said to myself “I want Have a Cow to be like Game X.”
So in Have a Cow, there are a good amount of different visitors that visit the farm. What was your thought process in trying to decide what type of character would show up on the farm?
Carl: I wanted the game to be quirky and to spark the imagination so I knew there would be some unusual characters but I first came up with the card effects. So the prototype was just blank index cards with the abilities written on them. After that, I tried to put somewhat thematic characters to each ability. The hope is that after a given game, a player could say An alien came to my farm and took a cow so on the next turn, the pharaoh helped me get a tractor so I could get a haystack but there was a troll in the haystack! Stuff like that. The illustrator came to the rescue and really made some great pieces of art for the cards.
Do you have a favorite character?
Carl: Some of my favorites are in the upcoming expansion called “Haunted Have a Cow: It Came from the Pumpkin Patch” When I was growing up, I watched all the classic Universal monster movies like Frankenstein and Dracula and so on. They are the inspiration for many characters in the expansion. In the core game, I think I like the Neanderthal and the Detective.
Let’s talk that expansion. Will it be a Kickstarter add on or stretch goal? What does it add to the gameplay?
Carl: The expansion “Haunted Have a Cow: It Came From the Pumpkin Patch” is our only stretch goal and will be integrated into the game if we hit that goal. So, backers will get the full game plus the expansion. It adds support for up to 5 players and a Halloween Theme with new barn cards and visitors. If you want to add a 5th player, just shuffle them into the game. If you just want to just add the theme, you randomly discard 10 visitors and shuffle the haunted visitors in.
It includes stuff like a vampire, werewolf, mummy, and trick-or-treaters. The barn deck gets new items like Halloween candy, etc. The KS campaign should wrap up in time to get it all delivered before Halloween, too.
Will we see more expansion in the future not just holiday ones like say Christmas or Valentines but other things as well?
Carl: Yes. I have a few expansions planned. A Winter Wonderland expansion by the end of November. This will be a general holiday season expansion. Then I’ll be on to another game. later in 2020, there will be more. There’s a lot of fun stuff that can be done with the game.
The Samurai from your other game Don’t Flip A Ninja is a visitor in Have a Cow. That is a nice Easter Egg. Will be seeing the ninja making an appearance at some point as a visitor?
Carl: Ah, yes, I put the samurai in there to see how many people might notice. Good eye! And I do think the ninja will make a showing, too, but I won’t say where.
Let’s talk your illustrator for a moment. Who is it and what about their illustration style did you know was right for this game?
Carl: The illustrator is Izsák Ambrus, a comic artist from Hungary. I was building the game using clip art but got to the point where I was ready to start gathering some proprietary art so a started searching. I used The Game Crafter, Indie Game Alliance, Fiverr, etc. Anyway… in the game, there is a Hay Troll and I saw a drawing of a troll that was as if it were made just for this game. It was one of those “ah-ha!” moments. I contacted the artist, we started talking and he did a couple of preliminary characters. I was totally delighted and the ball kept on rolling. I plan to use him for all the expansions that are yet to come.
Hey! Or should I say ‘hay.’ I actually wanted to mention the Hay Troll. In the game, the Hay Troll may be on the hay bale side of a card (there is a haystack and hay bale side). What does the Hay Troll add to the game?
Carl: The hay troll is there to add a sense of tension. I feel like it would be kind of boring if flipping a haystack had the exact same result every time. It’s like pressing your luck a little bit. I get a kick out of those times when someone decides to flip a haystack and they’re like “No troll, no troll, no troll…” And then it’s a troll and everyone has a good laugh.
What was the best piece of advice that you received from a playtester for Have a Cow?
Carl: I think the best feedback I got was about the rules. It’s easy for a game creator to understand the written rules because they are the creator of those rules. When the game is sent out and people read them, that’s when you start to realize that the clarity you imagined being there isn’t really there at all. Also, there are now 2 hay trolls and I think, thanks to your feedback, it has made the game more fun. People are a little more anxious about revealing trolls and I love the look on their faces when they are about to flip over a haystack.
Yeah, it’s true I did suggest that. We’ve been playtesting the game some at our house, my son Gavin and I – in fact, I think we’ve played four times this week already. It’s a really good family card game. There is a little bit of take that, but it’s more of the laughter kind than hurt feelings kind. In fact, you may be laughing that you get to steal an opponent’s cow card with Robin Hood, only to have your next Visitor card be a UFO that will take one of your own cows! So the question in here is, was it hard to balance the take that portion of the game, so it doesn’t feel harsh or hurtful?
Carl: I tried to minimize the “take that” by making it mandatory to follow visitor instructions. So if a visitor causes something bad to happen it’s not like a player is doing it, it’s just an effect of the visitor. Even cards played by players, tend to affect where visitors are. So if I send a bad visitor to your farm, you still have your turn to manipulate that visitor. I think that’s why it tends to be funny when things happen, rather than mean.
If you had to choose 3 adjectives to describe the gameplay, what would they be?
Carl: Surprising, Funny, Clever (I say clever because there really is an opportunity to make big turns by playing your cards right),
What is the greatest lesson as a designer that you have learned through designing Have a Cow?
Carl: The greatest lesson is that game development is a collaborative process. You need to listen and learn and not be afraid to cut things loose that don’t work.
When should we be looking for the Kickstarter?
Carl: It starts Aug 23rd (tomorrow as of this interview). The funding goal is very low. I really just want to get the game to as many people as possible and Kickstarter seems like a good way to get the ball rolling and get the game into gamer’s hands.
Any final words?
Carl: My final words would simply be to thank you for the time you took to test the game and to hold this chat with me. My operation right now is completely grassroots. I quit my job a few months ago, invested in incorporating my game company as an LLC and I’ve gone all-in to try and make a living as a game designer. A small success with Have a Cow would be a great step toward building a brand. I’m chasing the dream and you have to start somewhere, I guess. So here I go! Thanks again!
Thanks again, Carl, for taking time out to do this interview. Best of luck with the Kickstarter! If you like to talk to Carl yourself, you can find him at Twitter @N20Games.
Let me add that Have a Cow, is a solid and good family card game, for anyone that care to know my thoughts on it.
If you like to check out Have a Cow on Kickstarter, you can do so by clicking this link.